Stafford, Johnson lead Lions past Bears, 34-17
Detroit — The offense starved the past two weeks, but on Thanksgiving, the Lions' stars kept eating in a 34-17 win over the Chicago Bears in front of 64,175 holiday spectators at Ford Field.
Calvin Johnson went back for seconds with two impressive touchdowns and hit yet another career milestone. Matthew Stafford looked like he was tossing dinner rolls around a table, and his teammates were the only ones allowed to catch them.
The Lions (8-4) hadn't shown this level of explosiveness since Week 1, and after being held without a touchdown the last two games — losses in Arizona and New England, they wanted to prove the offense could still perform at a high level. With 474 yards and a 21-point second quarter, it appears those memories will at least briefly fade with a win that keeps them firmly in the postseason chase.
"I think everybody was extremely motivated coming into this game to play well," Stafford said. "I know I was, and it showed."
As well as the Lions played Thursday, there must be some perspective in the win. The Bears (5-7) ranked 31st in the NFL allowing 27.5 points per game and had the league's third-worst pass defense. Chicago's defense also played with two of its best players inactive — Jeremiah Ratliff and Lance Briggs — and top safety Chris Conte exited with an eye injury in the first quarter.
But the Lions offense had been so bad the past two weeks, and with a few more drives short of the end zone, the final total was 25 drives in a row without a touchdown. So after the impressive victory, left guard Rob Sims was happy enough to share a pun.
"I was telling the guys last night, 'There may be some bears in front of us. We've got to break through them,'" Sims said.
The scariest thing on the field was neither a bear nor a lion, but rather Johnson, whose 25-yard touchdown catch between multiple Bears defender broke the sad streak with 13:01 left in the second quarter.
"He sparked it for us, and he should," Sims said of Johnson's first touchdown. "He's our leader, he's our star, and once he does that, it's like, OK, let's go."
Stafford didn't quite give the "monkey off our back" explanation, but said the score "gave us air in the balloon."
Johnson finished with 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He also became the 43rd receiver in NFL history to eclipse 10,000 receiving yards and is the fastest to reach the mark, needing just 115 games.
"Calvin obviously was on fire today," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
Stafford was excellent, finishing 34-of-45 for 390 yards and two touchdowns. After completing just 39.1 percent of his passes last week, Stafford was precise for nearly the whole game and completed 75.6 percent of his passes. Based on pre-game warmups, he expected the Lions to break out of their funk and his teammates felt the same way.
Glover Quin's diving interception in the fourth quarter was the defensive highlight for the Lions, but they also forced the Bears to be one-dimensional early in the game. Chicago had just 13 yards on eight rushes and had to rely heavily on quarterback Jay Cutler.
And despite a strong start, Cutler finished the game 31-of-49 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
For the Lions, everything was working on offense. With left tackle Riley Reiff and right guard Larry Warford out with knee injuries, they relied on two rookies — Cornelius Lucas and Travis Swanson — up front and allowed just two sacks.
Johnson was unstoppable, but Golden Tate moved the chains, too, with eight catches for 89 yards.
Running back Reggie Bush (ankle) missed his third straight game, but Joique Bell continued to prove he's the best option on the ground with 23 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Second-year back Theo Riddick added six catches for 54 yards.
The tight ends even got involved in the passing attack, led by Eric Ebron's three catches for 23 yards including a 13-yarder in which he hurdled Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Fuller, the 14th pick this year, had a rough first game against the Lions as his coaches confidently matched him against Johnson. After the game, Johnson was asked if he apologized to fellow Lions receiver Corey Fuller, Kyle's older brother.
"No, Corey told me to pour it on," Johnson said.
The Lions appeared to be headed for yet another disappointing offensive effort with a three-and-out to start the game. The Bears scored on their first drive with a 10-yard pass from Cutler to Alshon Jeffery.
On their next drive, the Lions moved the ball well, but the offense stalled as it has so many times in recent games and settled for a 46-yard field goal by Matt Prater.
The Lions started their next possession at their own 5, and after an encroachment penalty moved them to the 10, Jared Allen sacked Stafford, forced and recovered a fumble to give the Bears the ball at the 5 — the lone Lions turnover.
Two plays later, Cutler hit Jeffery for a 6-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 14-3 lead with 3:35 left in the first quarter.
From there, it was all Lions. Johnson caught an impressive 25-yard touchdown pass between Fuller and safety Brock Vereen, the team's first touchdown since Week 10. Bell scored a 1-yard touchdown on the drive after that.
Johnson caught a 6-yard touchdown on the next drive to end a perfectly executed 2-minute drill with 24 seconds left in the first half, giving the Lions a 24-14 at the break.
Robbie Gould added a 35-yard field goal for the Bears, the only score of the third quarter. A few drives later, the Lions drove 95 yards on 12 plays and took a 31-17 lead on Bell's second 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
The Bears offense, which gained just 269 yards, continued to struggle in the fourth quarter, and on the second play of one drive, Cutler threw an ill-advised pass to Brandon Marshall that Darius Slay tipped Quin.
The Lions used the turnover to add a 40-yard field goal by Prater with 6:16 left, the game's last score. And on the final play of the game, safety James Ihedigbo picked off Cutler again, a reminder the Lions can win on both sides of the ball.
"You've got to do it for four quarters," Stafford said of the offense finding its rhythm. "We had shown that we could do it in spurts at times this season, but to put it together for 60 minutes is gratifying."